On these bitter-cold winter days, it's easy to succumb to retail therapy at your favorite angling outfitter to re-stock for Spring. But while most anglers are enjoying a cup of cheer, you could be out enjoying prime fishing for the many species of game fish that Idaho has to offer!
Todays conditions were brisk: 20F ambient, 38F water temp, and post-frontal. I set out in search of the elusive cold-season Smallmouth Bass (a venture set aside for the self-punishing). My game-plan was to fish legendary CJ Strike with jigs and spoons along the usual target areas: rock bluffs and hard slopes in 30+ ft of water.
I am committed to landing just one bass amidst these winter months. But alas, chance did not hold that for me. I did, however, find myself gripped by adrenaline in the fight of my life against so many of the biggest native Rainbow Trout that this part of the Snake River has to offer. In the following paragraphs, I divulge my secrets intended for the hardy angler.
Sometimes you have to try what feels right and let chance take its course. Convention tells us that nearly all freshwater species are slow and picky this time of year. While this can prove to be true, I am not always in support of that thought.
The trout this time of year are very aggressive on sunny days in dead winter. Yellow Perch and Crappie are also always willing. All can be found in the same areas: deep holes surrounding structural points and dropoffs. My bait of choice was a crawdad plastic on a 1/2 oz. football jig. Electronics are important for the boat-angler, and the name of the game is elevation change.
If you fish from shore on a lake like CJ, you should aim to fish a steep dropoff, as is found on shore access points both above and below the dam. Fish are feeding in slack-current areas alongside main river flow. I fished near the spillway of CJ Strike Dam because it fits this terrain bill to a 'T'. The winning retrieve in today's scenario was a sweeping pull-and-float-down retrieve. Be sure to keep in contact with your lure by maintaining a semi-slack line, as most strikes will occur during the fall. You should cast, let the lure fall to the bottom, the sharply jerk your rod-tip up, and while your lure is falling again, slowly reel in to maintain contact. This jagged up- and-down motion replicates the dying minnows that fish this time of year feed on. Be sure to fan out your casts across all of your available range.
While this style, adapted from bass tactics, requires more work than just casting a crawler on a Carolina rig and waiting for a strike, you will find that you cover more water and your numbers will increase. It is also important to note that--in winter--you are still fishing the "off season," and your expectations should be much lower for numbers. If we only land one fish during this time of year, that is cause for celebration! And should your creel remain empty on the drive home, at least you spent the day out enjoying the beautiful sights offered by Idaho's intriguing winter season! Bring a stack of firewood and some snacks.
Whether you choose to enjoy the day with friends or in the solitude of fishing solo, do so safely and remember, if fishing were easy, they'd call it 'catching'!